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Yearly Archives: 2021

Thank you, RyanAir

by Ally

The month of November 2021 has been one of the quickest of my life. Now that I’m finally in a routine here, I was able to visit two new cities: Lisbon and London. Each was a unique experience, so I wrote a journal entry after each trip to remember the details.  (more…)

A Week in Poland

by Charlie

My second month abroad was even more meaningful than my first. Not only did I learn more about Israel and Judaism in the classroom, but I also continued to explore the Old City by foot. In my first blog, I wrote about seeing the Dome of the Rock (or Temple Mount) from afar. Recently, I also had the opportunity to explore it up close during the one hour of the day that my program was permitted. 

  

  

I spent the last week of November in Poland. It was cold and gray, and the towns we visited were bleak. However, I enjoyed the food, which helped make up for the fact that it was my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I missed all of the traditional foods we eat each year, especially my grandma’s pecan pie. I also missed watching football with my dad and brother.   

 

In Poland, I visited many of the concentration camps from the Holocaust, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. I also saw the Warsaw Ghetto.  

  

Although I had previously studied and knew the historical significance of these sites, I was overwhelmed when I saw them in person. The population per square kilometer in Manhattan is almost 28,000. In the Warsaw Ghetto where Jews were forced to live, there were 125,000 Jews per square kilometer. They comprised nearly 30% of Warsaw’s population but occupied only 2.4% of its area. 

  

 

Leaving Poland, I was consumed by one thought: how truly lucky and privileged I am to be alive and to have been born in the United States. 

 

During the last few days in Poland, I learned about the Omicron variant to Covid. I also learned that if we didn’t make it back to Israel by midnight on November 28 we would be required to quarantine for three more days. Having already quarantined for a full week in September, I was really hopeful that my plane would be on time. As luck would have it, our wheels touched down 126 minutes after the deadline so we were immediately tested and hurried to our quarantine locations. I am looking forward to my final month in Jerusalem once quarantine ends. 

 

The World at Home

by Mariana

You would think that plunging directly into my hometown of almost nineteen years would yield routine results—invariable observations I would be wont to have. Yet, cradled between familiar mountains and blanketed by the same dusty borderland sky, my everyday community sprung opportunities ready to impart me with new knowledge. As my gap year commenced, my newfound role as an intern for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center delivered a transformative culture shock a few short miles away from the border along which I had been raised. 

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (“Las Americas,” for short), prides itself on its unique hub of community volunteers, interns, paralegals, and attorneys, all working to provide relief and pro bono legal aid to migrants from across the globe. Interning for the Detained Team at Las Americas, I assumed differing roles to contribute, however slightly or laboriously, to the mission of the organization, from ordering files to interviewing detainees about their often-harrowing cases for asylum. 

Even just a few months into my work, I witnessed significant diversity and similarities across cases. Clients shared insight into the heart-wrenching realities of their home countries: some fled incarceration under an unjust government, unmitigated destitution, religious persecution, or as victims caught in the crossfire of corrupt systems and violent groups. Some immediately acquiesced to substandard conditions and discrimination at detention centers in the hopes of prompt release, while others petitioned officials for basic respect. Some arrived already suffering physical and/or mental trauma, escaping brutality and degradation to the most primitive conditions imaginable. At times my stomach would churn upon hearing the clients’ ages, some even younger than me.  

Across backgrounds, every client bore ideals valued by the US to this same country that attempted to turn them away. While some advocated for their freedoms and inalienable rights, others promoted love, faith, assiduity, forgiveness, and courtesy, even when aware of how the US misconstrued them as wrongdoers or criminals. 

However, all of the clients—regardless of language barriers, cultural differences, or brevity—spoke with the same humble dignity and respect, their tone fatigued, but never defeated. Engaging in such poignant conversations with clients resulted in constant emotional growth, as I strived to empathize with the detainees and offer the solace lacking in the immigration system. Despite the complexity of such an unforgiving system, the people I spoke with maintained hope, braving every undeserved difficulty to seek a better life.  

Often before ending their interviews with a blessing for the workers at Las Americas, the clients I spoke with disclosed pieces of wisdom I carry with me: 

  • “Venimos a sembrar semilla Buena a este país” (We have come to plant a virtuous seed in this country) 
  • “Love recognizes no religion or color” 
  • “En ninguna carcel, ni de oro, alguien se va a sentir bien” (In no prison, not even one of gold, will someone feel good) 
  • “La vida es bonita, nadamás es saberla vivir. Por uno no viene para molestar” (Life is beautiful, if only you know how to live it. That is why one does not come to this country just to be a bother.) 

As I prepare to spend Christmas with my family knowing the clients I spoke with may not obtain the same opportunity, I think of the lessons working at Las Americas has instilled in me thus far, remembering to hold steadfast to faith and hope and look forward, but also sideways to our fellow neighbors. I now move forward with the intent of treating everyone benevolently and finding ways to alter the immigration system for the better, seeking the noble work hidden within the niches of my community. 

Colourful Enlightenment

By Aryaman

This Diwali was so different from all others. This was the first time I celebrated this festival away from my hometown and with my maternal grandparents.

As I walked around the bazaar in Paratwada, I got lost in a world I had barely seen—India.

Street vendors selling Diwali festivities were littered around every corner of the bazaar. The buzz of the crowd was so loud I could barely hear my own voice as I struggled to find the space to walk through. It seemed as if the whole village was outside—celebrating, buying new clothes, sweets and gifts. In this space of shared happiness, the town felt alive with joy—as if everything else had stopped so that people could come together and celebrate life.

Up till now, my experience of Diwali had been completely different. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of the city the festival had lost its soul. To a large extent, Diwali felt like just another time of the year when you do what you do and just get done with it. Every year, we would follow the unnecessary customs as quickly as possible so that we could return back to our normal life. In the Blacks and Greys of my modern city, the colors of Diwali didn’t fit in.

Rangoli

 

 

 

 

However, standing in the middle of the market, surrounded by hundreds of shops and stalls selling artistically designed Diyas, ornate Kurtas and new Rangoli colors, I felt complacent. A tourist in my own nation, I walked around the streets of Paratwada endlessly, in awe. I was seeing shades of India which had eroded away from my life.

As the day passed by, one by one, families started to come out in the street dressed in beautiful traditional clothes to place Diyas in front of their houses and to embellish the Rangolis which decorated their gateways. Each house began to turn on its unique display of festival lights and, before long, the sky was sparkling with every color imaginable.

Diya
Diwali

For the first time, I consciously saw the India I heard of as a child. The one I had only read about in history books. An India where people wholeheartedly celebrated the unnecessary customs and traditions of the Indian subcontinent.

 

Pooja

 

Seeing the beauty of Diwali in Paratwada has made me question the boundaries of behaviour I had so eagerly defined for myself. Despite India’s colorful history of the previous 7800 years, my Indian identity has been defined by the subsequent, solitary 200. However, till recently, I didn’t truly understand the effect colonialism had on my life.

     

I grew up in a city where I constantly heard of a better world. As I struggled to pronounce the language I was supposed to speak, or figure out the clothes I was supposed to wear. I learned from western TV shows. Not only how I was supposed to look but how I was supposed to behave. I grew up without understanding the perpetual dilemma of the duality of India’s post-colonial society. I didn’t understand why English was the “superior” language and or why our lives revolved around what was happening in the west. Though I had read the history of Colonialism, I hadn’t truly understood the effect of my internalized inferiority.

Slowly, I got further institutionalized into the systems which were created by my oppressors, I bleached all aspects of my personality and got rid of the disease that was my Indianness.

Both me and my city have become more western over time. The cultures and lively attires which littered each corner of my country have now been whitewashed into the black and greys of my “modern” city. This western culture in India has not been adopted, it was violently imposed as the whole country became subservient to another for more than a century.

One of the reasons I took a gap year was to truly understand myself, and now, I have realized understanding myself also means making sense of my complicated national identity and how that identity advances the biases with which we have created our systems of subtle oppression which I, till very recently, believed bettered my life.

Post Diwali

The horrors of colonialism continue to haunt my country—and much of the world—today, but this Diwali, on the victory of light over darkness, I saw the dying glimmer of Indian culture in the back of my mind and I learned to truly embrace my identity.

Random Traveling

 

 

Una Vida Diferente

By Ally

 

“Two staple dishes in aSpanish household. Paella (left), Tortilla & salad (right). Paella is a seafood dinner that typically includes rice, various shellfish, chicken, saffron, and vegetables. Tortilla is a potato, egg, and onion dish. My host family puts lots of time and effort into making our dinners—cooking is considered their down time!”
“A peek into thecoffee shop“Café con Libros.”It’s become my tradition to come here on Saturday mornings and read—today I’m reading a children’s chapter book called El Soñador. It’s a cozy place. And more importantly, they have great breakfast crêpes.”

It’s been five months since I walked across the high school graduation stage-a fifteen step journey that commenced the adventure of this year. I’m now sitting on a multicolored couch in the corner of “Café con Libros:” a slice of coffee shop solitude I’ve found amidst the infinitely busy center of Malaga, Spain. To my left is a heap of Spanish books, and through the partially open window to my right is “La Manquita:” the only partially built cathedral that seduces tourists with its renaissance architecture. Last week marked one month of my stay in Spain, but I still feel like I’m getting settled here. The culture, although western, feels so unfamiliar. Water here costs money. It’s considered strange to leave a tip at restaurants. My Netflix has changed to Spanish. It took me ten minutes to figure out how to properly flush the toilets here. We walk everywhere. Public transportation isn’t as confusing as I once thought! Everything is closed on Sundays, and there’s a Catholic church around every corner. 21 degrees Celsius means 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bread is a part of every meal. Dinner is at 21:00, which means 9pm. And lunch is at 3pm. We dry our clothes by hanging them outside.

It’s October, and Christmas decorations are already up. The birds are green here. People wear jeans in 80-degree weather. Fruit is eaten as dessert after every meal. There are outdoor, public gyms! No buildings use air conditioning, and the windows in our house are never closed. Spaniards are incredibly friendly, but they also speak incredibly quickly. People dance… a lot. New foods have not disappointed! Dogs are everywhere, and somehow they’re all perfectly behaved. The pigeons are a little too comfortable around people. Showers longer than five minutes are frowned upon. We’re not supposed to walk barefoot inside the house. Nobody uses crosswalks. Kissing your friends hello and goodbye is the norm. Sunsets are incredible here. Shops and restaurants close for “siesta” every afternoon. Parking only comes in one form: parallel. We use tote bags and fanny packs instead of backpacks. There are street musicians and artists galore. Scooters and bikes are everywhere. I don’t leave the house without a deck of cards in my purse. American accents are very distinct in Spanish, apparently.

 

“The view of Málaga’s outskirts from the top of a popular hike up Mt. San Antón.”

I love it here. It’s so different, and I feel so out of place sometimes, but I’m starting to befriend the unfamiliar. Living with a host family has allowed me to experience an authentic Spanish lifestyle, and I’ve met people from across the world. My roommate is from Japan, and my group of friends span Europe: Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium. These people have taught me so much about their home countries and different cultures, and I learn something new with every conversation. It’s fascinating. Learning a new language comes with its challenges, but I’m able to see improvements in my Spanish every day—I (hopefully) successfully gave someone directions to the bus stop yesterday, and I understood 80% of Crepúsculo (Twilightin Spanish). It’s the little successes that count! It’s been a month of growth and discovery, but I still have so much left to learn here. I can’t wait.

Introduction to Israel

By Charlie

 

As I hoped going into my gap year, I have already started to learn things I never expected. I did my laundry in a communal laundry machine, bought groceries at a nearby supermarket, and traveled on planes, trains, and busses. Each of these things was further complicated due to the need to navigate a foreign language and another country’s COVID-19 protocols. I also spent a week quarantined with three new friends in a room the size of a large closet.

When I signed up for Year Course, I was not expecting the cultural differences to be such a key factor. I am staying in Jerusalem on the Kiryat Moriah campus, which not only houses Americans, but also Canadians, Guatemalans, Germans, and Israelis.

The cultural differences exist outside of my campus as well. As expected, I am learning more about Jewish heritage and Israeli history in courses and tours. One of my most interesting courses, “The Politics Behind the Conflict,” addresses more than just Judaism. In our first meeting together, we went on a day-long tour of the four quarters of the Old City: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim. We saw areas of the Old City in this class that many tourists never take the time to see.

(The Old City)
(Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre)

Although there are restrictions on who can go inside the Dome of the Rock, we were able to walk around outside of it and learn about its significance. I also walked through the Shuk (an outdoor market) in the Muslim Quarter, where we learned what it is like to live in the Old City. Surprisingly, despite different beliefs and cultures, the Old City is a very peaceful place, and the people usually get along.

(Western Wall)

 

I walked through the narrow streets of the Armenian Quarter while I learned about the Armenians’ relationship with the Jews.

I also visited the Western Wall, which is the holiest place in Judaism because it once surrounded the First Temple.

In the Christian Quarter, I went inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although there was not a line to enter and the church was mostly empty, it was impossible not to appreciate the significance of the location.

My gap year in Israel has exceeded expectations so far, and I cannot wait to blog more about my time here in the coming months.

So Here I Am, Starting

By Grace

 

Training to be an EMT was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

It was also one of the hardest.

Photo taken by David Morgan on September 16th at the Wyss Medical Campus

For six weeks, my classmates and I spent our Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays together, motivating each other through ten-hour lecture days and seemingly endless back boarding sessions. We made it through 36 hours of ambulance ride-along, a day-long event lovingly referred to as the “EMT Olympics,” and a simulated nine-patient Mass Casualty Incident. 

We did all that, yet when all was said and done I felt nowhere near ready to work on an ambulance and take the lives of others into my own hands. Although I passed the national EMT exam (the NREMT) and volunteered with ambulance companies in the Bay Area, the terror and uncertainty I felt when treating patients prevented me from actually signing contracts with any of them.

Instead, I enrolled in NOLS’ Wilderness EMT semester program.  

Although I told family members I was going for the wilderness aspect of the program — which, don’t get me wrong, is incredible — I signed up because I didn’t feel confident in my ability to care for others, and thought that relearning the material would help.

A month later, I packed everything I had into two duffel bags and headed off to Wyoming.

Again, I met peers who motivated me to be my best. Again I practiced skills for hours on end, spent nights sorting through simulated Mass Casualty Incidents, and made it through “The Room of Doom.” 

I did all that, and yet at the end of the third week felt no more confident than the day I graduated from my last program. 

Yes, I was a better EMT than before, but that didn’t translate into increased confidence at the thought of actually treating patients. 

At first, I was disappointed. How can I do all of this, I thought, and still fell unprepared? 

Photo taken by David Morgan on September 23rd at the Wyss  Medical Campus
Photo taken on October 7th at the Wyss Medical Campus

 

 

However, as I kept on thinking about my trepidation, I came to a realization — up to this point in my life, I haven’t really put myself in positions where I feel unconfident. I practice speeches until I can’t get them wrong, switch hobbies when I hit plateaus, and rip the “bad” drawings out of my sketchbook before I show it to people. It was a crutch I could get away with when I was younger, but now it actively prevents me from doing the things I love to do. 

 

Confidence, after all, doesn’t come without experience. And experience, at its core, is making bad decisions, messing up, and learning how to do better next time. In order to pursue the things I love doing (EMT work included), I need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I need to be okay starting where I am, and improving from there. 

I’m writing this on a bus to Utah, an hour away from putting on a 50-pound backpack and embarking on a month-long technical canyoneering expedition. It’s something I’ve never done before, which seems as good a place as any to practice what I’ve just preached. 

 

So here I am, starting. 

The Bucket List

By Mariana

Years of cultivating finesse in the written word, hours aspiring to hone artistry and professional flair under the vigilant scrutiny of various high school writing instructors,

[El Pasolandscape]

only to now concede in sheepish musing, “wow, I thought this blog would be a little bit easier to write!”

Minutes into developing my ideas for this blog, the seemingly consequential nature of my gap year struck me. A year-long hiatus from everyday academic responsibilities signified an opportunity for a respite—a breather, so to speak—right? After all, my intentions in taking a gap year initially comprised of my desire to heal after an arduous, pandemic-stricken senior year.

However, with the prospect of a gap year, the unknown stirred within the tenebrous abyss of my notes app. A bucket list emerged, compelling me to pursue a prolific gap year and relish every moment, this blog is a testament to my endeavors and inevitable growth.

During the fall semester of my gap year, I anticipate assuming this almost allegorical journey from my humble, yet vibrant hometown of El Paso, Texas. I further hope to utilize this platform to welcome you as companions as I traverse through “The Bucket List” (not to be confused with the 2007 film, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.) Strap in as I guide you through my best attempt at chronicling my gap year, and hopefully we will encounter some incisive wit and profoundly earnest discoveries along the way.

 

[Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy office (front door)]
A Taste of “The Bucket List”

Fulfilling my position as a fall intern for the Detained Team at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center occupies perhaps the most pivotal item I initiated from “The Bucket List” during the month of October. As a volunteer for the pro-bono provider of legal services to immigrants throughout the world, I manage and log interviews with detained clients in our border community, engaging in poignant conversations with refugees about their harrowing cases for asylum, plagued with injustices. My role with the organization remains one of constant emotional learning in commiserating with detainees as human individuals worthy of the benevolence and courtesy often deficient in the immigration system.

[Potted Flowers]

“The Bucket List,” peppered with diversions and odd pastimes, accommodates the hobbies of guitar-playing and gardening, both in which I lack experience and partake in sparsely on my free time. Amidst hours of YouTube tutorials, callusing fingertips, and the tragedy of an already broken string, I gradually attuned myself to the nuances of playing the guitar as successfully as most beginners (not too successfully, I imagine). As for the four potted plants I now own, I plan to continue to nurture them as my unusually aged children, upon whose life cycles winter rapidly approaches.

 

Looking Ahead

Of course, I expect the banality of “smooth-sailing” to apply detachedly to the year ahead. Within one month, I have walked into a door, to the dismay of my now-bruised nose, and potentially contracted esophagitis from swallowing a pill incorrectly. Needless to say, my days of braving pills without water are behind me (by about five days.)These minor physical misfortunes, however, also parallel my doubts. Already, the urge to leave satiated from this gap year perturbs me. However, never has my life felt more in my hands than at this moment—an irrevocable opportunity I do not seek to waste. While the dozens of items on “The Bucket List” may beseech my attention, I recognize the exhilarating dynamicity of the year before me, teeming with learning curves and moments that contradict the perception of some gap years as flashy and idyllic. I thus hope to approach this time with authenticity, no matter how many items I cross off “The Bucket List.” Perhaps this year I shall accomplish the extraordinary, or perhaps I will challenge convention with the conventional, finding the beauty of the taken for granted.

Traveling

By Shun

In the past few weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to do what you want to do when you want to do it. 

In the weeks prior, I was overwhelmed with work and the tasks before me that I lost track of living and treasuring each day given to me. During the busy times of developing a mobile application, starting an English project for the Japanese community, and interning, getting through the day had become my end goal, and before I knew it, there were only three months left in my gap year. 

Of course, three months is still a lot of time, and I am just as excited to start my time at Duke, as I am living in Japan on this gap year, but part of me started to fear the what-ifs. What if I feel like I didn’t do enough on my gap year? What if end up not being able to do something I could’ve done? What if I reflect on my gap year and think, I should’ve done this, I should’ve done that instead of feeling satisfied with my year? 

Rather than thinking about the what-ifs now, I decided to prioritize taking time to do the things I want to do now: the things I can’t do in the United States and without the time I currently have. One of those things was traveling. With the added hurdle of COVID-19, it was difficult to take extended trips to remote areas, but with the number of cases having gone down significantly in Japan after the New Year, I took my mask and backpack and headed off. 

I first started by taking a brief trip back to the United States. This trip was mostly to conduct trials of the mobile application I had been developing in Japan, but it was nice to be home and spend time with my family for the first time in 6 months. After enjoying many home-cooked meals, time with my dog, and feeling refreshed for the second half of my year, I headed back to Japan. 

In retrospect, this short trip back to the US was important in resetting the new “normal” that had become living in Japan. I was able to appreciate spending time here more and found many things I wanted to do before the year was over. 

My first trip in Japan was two days in Osaka on the West side of Japan. I decided to go on this trip about three days before I went, as I found tickets for The National High School Baseball Championship. The National High School Baseball Championship is held twice a year in the spring and summer, and it is one of the most-watched sports events in Japan. I was very excited to get an opportunity to attend, as it was my first time going to the spring tournament, and the tournament last summer was canceled due to COVID-19. Watching the players chasing their dreams under the hot sun and brisk wind, was a fresh reminder of myself just a few months ago. Revitalized and motivated, I returned to Tokyo.

 

My next trip was to the bottom part of Japan, where I visited Hiroshima, Oita, and Fukuoka prefectures. A friend and I took a plane down and only used trains to travel between the prefectures. Although we were still in Japan, life seemed much slower there, especially in Oita. Trains only came once an hour (they typically come once every few minutes in Tokyo), and the climate was slightly milder, making it a nice escape from the hustle of everyday life. Walking along farmland and homes in remote areas of Japan, seeing and experiencing things I had never done before but knew I’d likely never do again, I felt happy and refreshed. 

 

 

Looking back on the past month, I feel that it has been one of the most enjoyable of my gap year so far. Being able to take a trip across the country whenever you “feel like it” and experience things unbelievably different from your everyday life is a benefit of the gap year I never want to give away. I have a few more trips planned for next month, so I am looking forward to wherever those trips take me next. 

A Year Is Just 365 Days

By Valerie

A gap year sounds sexy, doesn’t it? It’s becoming increasingly popular, but still unconventional enough to warrant fascination from others when you tell them about it, almost like a badge of honour you wear proudly on your sleeve to announce to the world that you are not afraid to stop and take time to think about what you truly want to do in life, even as your peers relentlessly forge ahead in their educational and professional pursuits.  

Everyone takes a gap year for different reasons– to travel, recharge after high school, gain working experience, ascertain aspirations, discover new passions or, of course, to avoid virtual schooling during a pandemic– and more often than not there are a multitude of factors at play. But we all share a common goal– to feel more prepared for college and life at large.  

For the most part, my gap year has boosted my readiness for college, albeit not in the way that I expected a year ago.  

The biotech internship and research attachment I participated in certainly informed my career aspirations, diverting me away from public health policy formulation and towards the physician-scientist pathway. With extra time on my hands, I’ve had the luxury of exploring the plethora of resources offered at Duke, talking to seniors and observing some classes related to my prospective majors (owing to the generosity of many professors). I now have a clearer idea of which courses to take, which programs to participate in and which clubs to join. 

But the most useful skill I acquired was the art of self care. Bouts of ill health caused me to realise how much I had been neglecting my body and mind over the past few years. They instigated me to reexamine my lifestyle and reorganise my priorities, to stop centring my life around work and school and define boundaries to ensure that my physical and mental well-being are not encroached upon.  

I probably should have established this work-life balance way back in high school, but in hindsight, I don’t blame myself for not doing so. How could I, with my future seemingly hanging in the balance? Not to mention that I based my self worth largely on my academic and extracurricular achievements, and was addicted to the satisfaction of perfecting a test score or winning a competition.  

I had to extricate myself from the formal schooling system for this entrenched mindset to change. Life felt empty initially without the extrinsic gratification of a good score. But I soon discovered healthier, more sustainable sources of intrinsic happiness. I still see it as a form of responsibility to do well in tests, examinations and projects but they no longer tower over me like mammoth spectres. Receiving a mediocre grade will not make or break my college experience, let alone my life, and reducing my existence to a couple of numbers and letters is, well, depressing to say the least.  

Preparing for the AP Biology test over the past few weeks gave me a chance to put this new mindset into practice, like a rehearsal before the actual college stage. While my high school self would have spent every possible minute cooped up in my study room, save for occasional trips to the bathroom or kitchen, the “new me” interspersed study periods with piano practice sessions, k-drama breaks and evening walks, even having the audacity to meet my friends for a meal or two. Rather than undermining my preparedness for the test, these healthy distractions actually alleviated my long-standing performance anxiety and prevented me from burning out (as I did while preparing for the “A” Levels).  

Over the past year, I have definitely grown in both tangible and intangible ways. If I could go back in time, I would absolutely make the same decision to defer, even if it meant starting college later than everyone else. But I would also like to highlight that taking a gap year is not a panacea; you shouldn’t feel pressured to get it all figured out within 365 days. Exploration is, after all, what college is all about. I do have more clarity around my aspirations and passions, but it is with an open mind that I’m going into college, where new peers, mentors and experiences will shape me in ways I cannot yet imagine.